Keeps you intrigued throughout

‘Daughters of the Lake’ – Jane Riddell

4-star-rating

Daughters of the Lake - Jane Riddell

Daughters of the Lake – Jane Riddell

Daughters of the Lake is a contemporary family drama set in Switzerland. Madalena invites her four adult children to celebrate her hotel’s fortieth anniversary, unaware of their tensions and secrets. As the day of the celebration approaches, confused emotions take hold, and the occasion goes badly wrong. Set against a backdrop of mountains and lakes, this is a story of love, betrayal and family conflict.

I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. To be honest, based on the cover, I was a little dubious about what this book could offer me. A little drab and, quite frankly, a little dated, I was expecting a hard slog and a basic plot. However, readers be warned: do not be deceived! Once I had got into the story, I found Daughters of the Lake intriguing, surprising and one that kept me interested right until the very end.

Riddell writes about this family from different perspectives at each chapter. This was a clever technique to help you see inside the minds of the characters. I did not find it confusing to jump between different people as it felt like each chapter came to such a conclusive point, it was natural to switch to somebody else. Sometimes I even felt desperate to continue reading from one character’s point of view, keen as I was to know more!

One would expect that the family Riddell writes about would be open and honest with each other. However, the reality is far from different. The secrets that each person has, just indicates how much they really do not know one another; they are less like a family and more like separate units. The revelations come throughout the novel and were certainly not expected. In addition, the quick turn of events for the characters were also a surprise and I really liked the unforeseen way the plot developed.

I read Daughters of the Lake over several weeks but this did not impact my enjoyment. The novel is really easy to pick up again: not just because of its structure with character switching, but also because the characters are so memorable for their different behaviours. This is the first novel I have read by Jane Riddell and I look forward to discovering more of her writing.

I think my only criticism of the book was the novel’s beginning. I found it a little hard work to get stuck into and, for me, this made the first couple of chapters difficult to enjoy. Maybe it was because of the different viewpoints, that I could not get a chance to really know the people properly, or perhaps that I was reading little chunks at a time. If this is you, then I really recommend you keep going because the plot will draw you in.

If you thought being set in Switzerland, this family would have an enjoyable, scenic holiday and catch-up, you are very much mistaken. If anything, the fresh air seems to encourage honesty, drama and memories resurfacing.

A bit of a trudge

‘The Kite Runner’ – Khaled Hosseini

3-star-rating

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

‘The Kite Runner’ of Khaled Hosseini’s deeply moving fiction debut is an illiterate Afghan boy with an uncanny instinct for predicting exactly where a downed kite will land. Growing up in the city of Kabul in the early 1970s, Hassan was narrator Amir’s closest friend even though the loyal 11-year-old with “a face like a Chinese doll” was the son of Amir’s father’s servant and a member of Afghanistan’s despised Hazara minority. But in 1975, on the day of Kabul’s annual kite-fighting tournament, something unspeakable happened between the two boys.

I devoured Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and was keen to read ‘The Kite Runner’, particularly after seeing the film several years ago. But I found this novel difficult to get into and did not find it as gripping or engaging as her previous work. That being said, I didn’t think this was a terrible book and one that does deserve your attention.

Funnily enough, the theme of kite running does not feature heavily in this book, but instead follows Amir and how his life changed from an unspeakable event he observed during the kite tournament. I find this makes the novel more of a drama as we watch how Amir reacts to what he has seen and how this haunts him growing up. When him and his father are forced to flee their home due to fighting and unrest, you feel that Amir is seeking some closure. But living in America does not give him the clean conscience he was hoping for.

I found the second half of the novel more engaging and think this was because Amir returns to Afghanistan. The changes that the country has undergone was difficult for Amir to accept, especially the scene in the stadium. This reminded me of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and wondered if Hosseini already had the story for her follow-up novel and made me a little wistful that ‘The Kite Runner’ was not proving as enjoyable.

The second half of the novel was certainly faster-paced and I was keen to see Amir return to safety. He finally confronts his childhood demons and by the end of the novel, readers assume that he has finally found that inner peace he had been searching for for so many years. The novel comes full circle and finishes with the kites and this charming ending reinforces the closure that Amir had desired.

I’m not sure whether I would re-visit this novel in a hurry, particularly as I found Hosseini’s other novel more enjoyable. That being said, I think it is worth looking at so you can make your own mind up. If this doesn’t tick all of your boxes but your are intrigued by the Afghanistan setting, then I believe you will get more satisfaction from reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’.

A story within a story about a story‏

‘The Silent Tide’ Rachel Hore

3-star-rating

The Silent Tide - Rachel Hore

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

The new novel from best-selling author Rachel Hore, much loved for her stories in which past and present are grippingly entwined.When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…

One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.

Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.

This is a decent read and one that ashamedly took me several months to read. Not through lack of enjoyment, I can assure you, and this does merit to Hore’s writing. I could quite easily pick up where I left off, even when considerable time had passed and did not feel I had lost a connection with the characters. However, I did find that by the time I was reaching the novel’s climax, I had forgotten the opening chapter and did need to skim it again to remind myself of how the story began.

The Silent Tide follows two women working in the publishing industry – Isabel in the 1950s and present-day Emily. The parallels between the two women were not as striking as I initially expected and their main connection, Hugh Morton, becomes the fuel for the story. As Emily learns more about Isabel and her life, she becomes dedicated to ensuring that Isabel’s story is told in a new biography about Hugh Morton – Isabel’s eventual husband. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep Isabel’s story intriguing, but I found Emily a rather insipid and bland character who “got in the way” of me finding more about Isabel. As the novel progressed, I felt that Emily was a mere vehicle that allowed readers to explore Isabel’s life and became frustrated when the story returned to present-day. It was this that influenced me to rate this book three stars, rather than four.

Isabel’s character was particularly interesting throughout and I really enjoyed seeing her develop from a young girl who left home, to becoming a reputable editor. When her life makes a sudden change through her marriage and then pregnancy, we see how social expectations of the role of the woman in the home makes Isabel feel suffocated and isolated from her busy working life. The way Hore portrays Isabel’s emotions, both towards Hugh, her mother-in-law and post-pregnancy, were really convincing and I could feel Isabel’s frustrations towards the confinements of her new role and what is expected of her.

The novel’s closing chapters were unexpected and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It even made Emily redeem herself a bit more after her “bumbling” through the story. The Epilogue was brilliant and a great way for Hore to close The Silent Tide but I did found it a little “ploddy” in the story from the focus on Emily. That being said, it’s a harmless read and as I have demonstrated, one you can easily come back to after time has passed without having lost the thread of the story.

Jump around

‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ – Audrey Niffenegger

5-star-rating

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry was thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Firstly, I must apologise that I haven’t blogged for a while! Totally shameful, but life has taken a massive and positive turn and I have found my time to read significantly reduced. Hopefully I can get more time in the future (I certainly hope so!) but followers of Mrs Brown’s books, do not despair, I will read as and when I can and blog as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

So, although this did take me a while to read, I was revisiting a previous love. The one thing that always stood out for me was how Niffenegger makes the non-linear narrative work so effortlessly. Normally I would frown upon reading a book that doesn’t flow in chronological order or, in this case, one that switches between time and narrators in such a short space of text. But, once you get used to this and how it is a defining part of the story, it is difficult not to embrace it and enjoy the lack of predictability.

I love the whole concept of someone who can time travel. One of my favourite films is ‘Back to the Future’ but this is in no way similar. Forget the Delorian and a mad scientist, when Henry experiences intense emotion he finds himself transporting to another place, unfortunately ending up butt naked at his new destination. The near-misses he experiences with the law and the confusion he causes with his work colleagues at the library were particularly intriguing, especially the incident with the Cage…

The relationship between Clare and Henry is endearing. Clare is the backbone to the relationship, the steady  rock that progresses through time whilst Henry’s own memories are being jiggled around. As Clare is growing up, you can’t help but wonder how she and Henry will wind up married, especially as it feels as if she is waiting for the next appearance of Henry. Henry’s protectiveness towards Clare is sweet and as the novel reaches its climax, you know he is doing everything in his power to make sure she is strong right towards the end.

What I really enjoyed was how Clare and Henry shared his unique disorder with those around them, from the doctor to their close friends. I was always sceptical about how soon they seemed convinced Henry was telling the truth but then, with his strange behaviour and inexplicable ageing between encounters, I guess it was the only explanation that could really make sense to them. As I was reading this novel, I did wonder whether it would work if Niffenegger included some sections from those closest to Henry, such as Alba, Gomez or Ingrid. It certinaly would add another dimension to the story but I figure it would mean the novel would lose its charm.

If you have seen the film adaptation of this novel, I would still recommend you reading ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. It is so different to other books out there and has so many plot elements that it will keep you guessing as much as Henry is with where he will next end up!

Endearing

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ – Rachel Joyce

3-star-rating

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking to save someone else’s life.

A sweet and heart-warming novel, readers follow Harold Fry as he takes it upon himself to walk 800-odd miles in a bid to save a friend from his past from dying from cancer. Exploring his strained marriage to his wife, Maureen, we meet many people Harold comes across along the way, all showing that despite a perfect exterior, everyone can have hidden troubles of their own.

I found this book initially quite difficult to get into as all the story does is describe Harold walking and the people he interacts with. I think I was expecting something a bit more dynamic, but as the story develops and news of Harold’s walk spreads, the narrow-mindedness of some of the people that join Harold made me want to push all the tag-alongs away so the story would be solely focused once more on his musings.

What I found most interesting was the flashbacks about Harold and Maureen, from when they first met, Harold working and the switch to how Maureen was managing with Harold gone. This provided a whole new perspective and I loved watching Maureen change as Harold’s walk progresses. From the start there is always the hanging question of whether Maureen and Harold can overcome this pilgrimage and live a happy life together and this kept me guessing right towards the end. Indeed, the relationship described between Harold and David, his son, is also full of deceptions and it really tugged at the heart-strings! It is clear that Harold has been through a lot in his lifetime and this makes you understand even more why he feels it necessary to walk to see his friend.

The plot twist towards the end of the novel was completely unexpected and I found it made the final chapters even more poignant. I think it was by this point that I truly appreciated the story for what it was: an exploration into people and their different walks of life, rather than a story dominated by revealing flash-backs and action. Desperate for a happy ending after all that Harold has been through, I sought reassurance that his pilgrimage had not been in vain.

This is an interesting story and one that I enjoyed reading. It is not a massively long book but I found it took me a while to get through because it is more of a drama rather than action. The way Harold and Maureen evolve over the story is fascinating to watch and I think Joyce pulled off a convincing tale of a man and woman both seeking answers and change to their lives.

 

Vividly dull

‘Life of Pi’ – Yann Martel

2-star-rating-1

Image courtesy of goodreads.com

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors are Pi, a 16-year-old boy, a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orangutan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal Tiger. As the ‘crew’ begin to grow restless and assert their natural place in the food chain, Pi’s fear mounts and he must use his wit, knowledge and faith to survive against all odds.

After hearing so much about this book, both before and after the film release, I was pleased to have the opportunity of reading ‘Life of Pi’. But I have to say that after all of the hype and publicity, I was really disappointed and found this a very tedious book.

‘So why did you carry on reading it,then?’ I hear you ask. Simply out of curiosity. I knew that the ending had something to offer and wanted to get there from the very start. Plus, I was also hoping that the story might improve…. Sadly, I was mistaken.

”Life of Pi’ is about a boy who is stranded on a lifeboat after a ship taking him and his family (plus some of their zoo animals) from India to Canada, sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the story details the boy’s survival on the boat and how he adapted to being stranded at sea for 227 days. He learns how to fish, save drinking water and tame a tiger.

Whilst I found this book tedious, it certainly is very vivid and colourful. From the beginning, the descriptions are very detailed and though it does create very colourful images in your head, I don’t think I fully appreciated what Martel was trying to achieve. Yes, I did feel sorry for Pi and his struggles, but just wished there was a bit more to the plot.

Now that I have ticked off ‘Life of Pi’ from books you should read in your lifetime, I can safely say I won’t be returning to it. This is a book that tries to teach you about human nature and whilst it isn’t a fable, I think this is why it didn’t quite appeal to me – the teachings just didn’t reach me the way Martel probably intended. If you have already seen the film then you know what to expect from this book. If not, certainly don’t approach this anticipating lots of action and drama.

Sympathy for the lonely prof

‘The Professor’s House’ – Willa Cather

2-star-rating-1

Image courtesy of goodreads.com

The Professor’s House – Willa Cather

On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved—his wife Lillian, his daughters, and Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous—and a tragic victim of the Great War—Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most.

Set after the First World War, this American novel follows Professor St Peter (yes, that is his name) who is resisting moving from his old house to a new build. Preferring his dingy yet comfortable study in the old house, the Professor cannot see why anyone would want to give up this comfortable space. The novel follows the Professor and his family, along with the ghost of Tom Outland. He died in the war and and left his then fiancée, one of St Peter’s daughters, a hefty sum of money. This creates a wedge between his two daughters and the entire story is haunted by the genuine warmth that Tom brought to the family.

The story is divided into three sections and the middle part tells us more about Tom Outland. Whilst it was interesting to read about Tom’s love for the treasures he discovers while out West, I found this section the most tedious. I understood the principles that Cather was referring to, but found the surrounding sections about the Professor and his family more of an absorbing read. I only wish that Cather had elaborated more on Tom’s discovery that led to him being so wealthy, and feel that I might have understood his character a bit more as a consequence.

I felt sorry for St Peter and how tiresome he feels towards life. Whilst his wife and family are off gallivanting in Paris, he is left, quite content, at home. When readers rejoin the Professor after Tom’s story, he is suddenly very tired of life around him and I felt so sorry for him that the rest of his family were not nearby. It is clear he held Tom in his highest regards and think that if given the opportunity he would do anything to spend some more time with his close friend.

I enjoyed reading this but don’t think I would read it again. The middle section was not as enjoyable as the rest of the story but I did find it clever how Cather made the Professor and Tom appear quite wistful in their ideals.